A pig and a poke

BBC Wildlife Magazine - - WILD NEWS -

Pigs are widely re­garded as in­tel­li­gent beasts, and yet they are con­spic­u­ous by their ab­sence from the grow­ing list of an­i­mals that use tools – un­til now, that is.

In prepa­ra­tion for the birth of piglets, Visayan warty pigs – a rare species na­tive to the Philip­pines – dig veg­e­ta­tion-lined nest pits in the earth. But a cap­tive group of four an­i­mals in the Mé­nagerie of the Jardin des Plantes, Paris, have been ob­served dig­ging and shov­el­ling the soil us­ing not only their snouts and feet, but also sticks and bark held in their mouths.

Two of the three fe­males in the group use the tech­nique ef­fec­tively. The lone male has been seen at­tempt­ing the task, but with less suc­cess.

“Very lit­tle is known about the be­hav­iour or ecol­ogy of Visayan warty pigs in the wild in the Philip­pines, in­clud­ing whether tool use is a nat­u­rally-oc­cur­ring be­hav­iour in this species,” write the bi­ol­o­gists be­hind the discovery.

The be­hav­iour has not been ob­served in other zoo pop­u­la­tions, sug­gest­ing that it is not in­nate. The bi­ol­o­gists ar­gue that it is likely to have been an in­no­va­tion on the part of one in­di­vid­ual – prob­a­bly a fe­male named Priscilla, who is a par­tic­u­larly en­thu­si­as­tic tool user – who was then copied by the oth­ers.

Stuart Black­man

FIND OUT MORE

Mam­malian Bi­ol­ogy: bit.ly/2QuMI0f

Ground-break­ing discovery: tool use among pigs.

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